Ask an Expert: Sun Protection with Dr Kerryn Greive

Dr Kerryn Greive PHD is the head of research and development at SunSense and she recently shared her expertise with us as she answered all of those important sun protection questions.

What is the UV Photobus?

The Sunsense UV Photobus is an education campaign travelling around Australia to reveal the hidden sun damage Australians have in their skin. By using special UV camera technology we can show Australians the damage that is already happening in the lower layers of their skin, and educate them about good sun protection habits for the future.

Anyone over the age of 16 can have their skin analysed, and will be given free samples of SunSense sunscreen to help get them started on a better sun protection regime.

How does it work?

The UV camera on the Photobus is able to take a picture of the pigmentation changes that are happening in the lower layers of the skin, but are not yet visible to the naked eye. Everyone who gets their UV image taken will be given a SunSensibility score that tells them how good their skin is compared to other Australians of the same age, gender and skin type.  While this hidden damage can appear quite confronting, hidden damage does not all have to become visible damage if dedicated sun protection measures are practised each and every day.

(NOTE: If you would like to know how your skin rates, the SunSense UV Photobus is currently travelling around Australia. You can find out more details, including bus locations at: )

Kerryn Greive
Dr Kerryn Greive

What can you tell us about the new SPF 50 rating that is coming to Australia?

Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world and so we need the most protective sunscreens we can get. Over this coming summer we will start to see sunscreens labelled as SPF 50+ being sold. With the move to SPF 50+ we are not only getting better protection from sun burn, but also better protection from premature skin ageing and skin cancer.

In fact, moving from an SPF 30+ sunscreen to an SPF 50+ sunscreen means that we are reducing the damaging UV radiation getting to our skin by about 50%.  It is always very important to remember, that no matter the SPF on the bottle, it cannot protect us properly if we don’t apply it properly, and this means putting the sunscreen on liberally and reapplying it frequently. Just because you are using SPF 50+ does not mean you can apply it once and stay out in the sun all day.

Would you suggest using up our SPF 30+ before buying the new products or are they significantly better?

SPF 30+ sunscreens still offer very good protection from both UVA and UVB. While I would recommend that everyone moves to a bottle of SPF 50+ when they buy sunscreen next, using up their SPF 30+ product first is fine.

Do you think Australians are getting the message to look after their skin in the sun?

In general, yes I think Australians are getting the message that they need to look after their skin, but I also think that we are at risk of getting too comfortable with the fact that we think we know a lot about looking after our skin.

An education campaign like the SunSense UV Photobus is very useful because it allows Australians to see sun damage that has already occurred but is not yet visible, acting as a ‘wake up’ call. By taking on board what the UV image is telling them and improving their sun protection habits, it will give Australians a better chance of delaying premature skin ageing and reducing their skin cancer risk.

For those who have been sun burnt in the past, what is the best course of action to prevent skin cancer?

The best course of action for those that have been sun burnt in the past is to avoid getting sun burnt in the future. Take care whenever they are in the sun, use sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, clothing and shade, and be sure to get regular skin checks by their Doctor or Dermatologist.

Sun Sense Bus

Can you get skin cancer if you haven’t been sun “burnt”?

Yes you can. While we know that there is a strong relationship between skin that has been sun burnt and skin that develops skin cancer, we also know that DNA damage starts to occur before we see or feel sun burn.

It is the build-up of DNA damage that contributes to our skin cancer risk. In fact we know that it is the little bits of non-burning sun exposure we get each and every day that can build up over our life time to cause skin cancer.

How serious is skin cancer in Australia?

Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world, with Australians 4 times more likely to get a skin cancer than any other form of cancer. Every day more than 1000 new skin cancers are diagnosed, and every 8 hours an Australian dies from skin cancer.

What is the difference between UVA and UVB?

UVB is the main form of UV radiation that causes sun burn, while UVA is mainly what damages our elastin and collagen leading to premature skin ageing, wrinkling and pigmentation. Both UVA and UVB contribute to skin cancer, and have been declared carcinogens by the world health organisation.  Good sun protection will protect us from both UVA and UVB radiation.

What are the first signs of melanoma?

Generally the first signs of melanoma are a freckle or mole changing. This can be a change in colour, size or texture. The best way to ensure we pick up any skin changes early is to check our own skin regularly, but to also have regular skin checks with our Doctor or Dermatologist. If in doubt, check it out. If skin cancer is caught early there are many treatment options available.

How often should we get our skin checked?

How often we should get our skin checked will depend on many factors such as age, skin type and what sort of sun exposure we have had during our life. The best approach is to see your Doctor or Dermatologist and based on what they find and your risk factors, they will recommend how often to get your skin checked.

What is your number one tip for being sun smart?

My number one tip is to remember that every little bit of sun exposure counts towards our life time risk of skin cancer and premature skin ageing, so sun protection should be part of our everyday routine. Try a daily sunscreen like SunSense’s Daily Face for high UVA/UVB protection for your face, necks and hands each day. It’s light and sits nicely under make-up, working away to protect you!

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